By Rishika Sharma, on January 9, 2023

Doppelgänger Destinations: Where to go when you want to ditch the crowds

If you could only take one trip in 2023, where would you go? Would you set off on a dream getaway to the Maldives? Tick Thailand off your travel wish list? Or are you committed to your annual pilgrimage to Walt Disney World?

Data shows that most Americans take just one or two trips per year – and it’s usually to the same destinations. US travelers want a sure thing and would therefore rather opt for the likes of Paris, Venice, and Santorini than gamble their precious (and limited!) vacation time on a lesser-known destination.

However, while it can be daunting to venture away from what’s populating your Instagram feed, research shows that when travelers do go off the beaten path, not only do they find fewer tourists, but they can save quite a bit of money too. But where to go? Luckily there are lots of doppelgänger destinations – lesser-known twins of more famous travel hotspots.

That’s exactly what we’re talking about on this episode of Out Travel the System with globetrotting expert Siobhan Reid. Siobhan is a freelance travel writer with the enviable job of keeping her finger on the pulse around the world for the likes of Conde Nast Traveler, The Washington Post, Vogue, Lonely Planet, and Travel + Leisure. So, while the rest of us might not have a clue what destination could compare to Paris, or if anywhere else could stand in for Mykonos or Bali, Siobhan can recommend a stack of alternative spots offering many of the same cultural and culinary experiences. Here are her top tips:

Swap Paris for Montreal

Like Paris, Montreal is full of art and culture. There’s stunning architecture and delicious European-inspired patisseries, and French chatter fills the streets. Must-see spots for first-time visitors include the spectacular Notre-Dame Basilica and St. Joseph’s Oratory (which is equally as charming as Paris’s Sacre Coeur). And while Montreal obviously doesn’t have the Eiffel Tower, it is home to the iconic Château Frontenac, a gothic masterpiece which dominates the city’s skyline. 

Another thing Montreal doesn’t have is Paris’s hugely inflated hotel prices. For example, this summer Montreal accommodation was, on average, $100 cheaper per night than Paris. So if you’re looking for a city getaway packed with museums, exhibitions, and heritage, Montreal should be high on your list.

Swap Mykonos and Santorini for Paros and Antiparos

Images of rocky clifftops adorned with bright blue-domed, white-walled houses and rustic churches have become synonymous with the idyllic paradises of Mykonos and Santorini. But visitors can enjoy the same epic views, incredible sunsets, and sumptuous cuisine throughout much of the Cyclades, without having to battle with the crowds for tables and rooms. Siobhan recommends Paros and Antiparos, where you’ll pay a fraction of the price for your accommodation. In fact, Paros is more than $200 a night cheaper than Mykonos!

Swap Bali or Thailand for the Philippines

Bali is a serious dream destination, especially for honeymooners. It’s an exotic getaway steeped in ancient South-East Asian traditions and blessed with stunning natural beauty. But if you’re looking for an alternative, consider Siargao, a teardrop-shaped island in the Philippines. It feels more secluded and off-the-grid than Bali – especially since the Indonesian hotspot has become more popular with influencers and young travelers – but still offers pristine jungle escapes and glorious sandy beaches lined with coconut trees. 

Swap Venice for Bruges, Burano or Empuriabrava

If you want to explore a floating European city on par with Venice or Amsterdam, but with hotel rates between $100 – $130 less per night, head to Bruges. A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, this Belgian architectural gem has somehow remained comparatively free of American tourists despite offering picturesque canals, romantic cobblestoned squares steeped in history, and streets that look like they’re straight out of a fairytale. 

There’s also Burano, which is just a 45-minute boat ride from Venice. Located in the Venetian Lagoon, you’ll find the same footbridges and canals, as well as incredible Venetian cuisine, but you’ll be able to enjoy them with far fewer crowds. What’s also unique to Burano is the kaleidoscope of colors from the stunning pastel-shaded houses that line its waterways, and a local lace-making tradition that dates to the time of Casanova and Venetian aristocracy. Another bonus is that it’s an easy day trip to Venice itself, making Burano a great place to stay even if a visit to its more famous sister city is still on your agenda. 

Another great Venetian doppelgänger is Empuriabrava on the Spanish Costa Brava. Truly a hidden gem that’s mostly only known by Spanish travelers, Empuriabrava offers a mix of a European canal city vacation and Mediterranean beach getaway. There are castles and medieval villages to explore as well!

Swap the Amalfi Coast for Lake Como

Lake Como is a popular destination in its own right – so much so that you might not think of it as somewhere to get away from the crowds. However, it’s actually a fantastic doppelgänger for the ever-bustling Amalfi Coast and there are many hidden gems if you explore beyond the famous Bellagio. You’ll find the same “wow” factor as you would on the Amalfi, and the drive from Milan makes for an epic road trip, especially if you time your trip around the shoulder season. 

Yes, Lake Como might still but busy – but it’ll never be as packed as the Amalfi Coast. And if you skip the big hotels where most travelers are staying at and spend some time inland, away from the beach, you’ll have a very different type of vacation.

For more doppelgänger destinations, listen to the full episode here or check out the transcript below. If you know of any more good spots that we’ve missed, make sure to share them with us on Twitter. Or if you do head to a doppelgänger in 2023, tag us in your photo and use the #ExpediaPic hashtag on Instagram – we’d love to see! 

Want to learn more?

Listen to the podcast now, check out the complete transcript below, or catch the full conversation on Spotify or Apple.

Nisreene Atassi, Expedia Global Head of Social Media, and host: I’m Nisreene Atassi and this is Out Travel The System. This week we’re talking about doppelgänger destinations. We’ll talk trends…

Christie Hudson, head of Expedia PR for North America (sound bite): Most Americans only take one to two trips per year. But there are also many good reasons to seek out an alternate destination. Expedia traveler data shows that when you get off the beaten path, you will find fewer tourists and quite a bit of cost savings.

Nisreene: ..hear from Siobhan Reid…

Siobhan Reid, travel journalist (sound bite): One day you’re writing a story about a brand-new museum in Paris. The next you’re writing about a remote beach in the Caribbean. There’s just so many different lenses through which you can see the world.

Nisreene: ..and really get down to business.

Siobhan: Increasingly, travelers are looking for more authentic experiences and they’re conscious of the fact that travel has a footprint. Travel has the capacity to do harm. It also has the capacity to do a lot of good. So I think people are starting to think more about how their travel impacts the world.

Nisreene: Here we go!

[Musical interlude]

Nisreene: Traveling to some of the world’s hottest destinations obviously has its appeal. But the reality is that a lot of these places are actually overrun with tourists who all might be there searching for that same Instagrammable moment. But wouldn’t it be nice if you knew the hottest destinations’ doppelgängers? You know, the places that look almost exactly the same, but are just a little bit different. But first, let’s talk trends.

All right, Christie. What’s the data this week?

Christie: Hi. Thanks, Nissi. This week we are talking about doppelgänger destinations. But if you were just looking at the data, you would see that Americans have a very clear top ten list when it comes to traveling. Each year, the top destinations tend to be the same: Las Vegas, Cancun, Orlando, New York, and London. And, listen, there are plenty of reasons to go visit these places. In fact, you could argue most of them are unlike anywhere else in the US or maybe even the world. After all, where can you find the flashy opulence of the Las Vegas Strip or experience the magic that is Walt Disney World? And it has to be acknowledged, too, that there’s nothing wrong with returning to the same destinations each year. Most Americans only take one to two trips per year, so we want a sure thing. But there are also many good reasons to seek out an alternate destination. Expedia traveler data shows that when you get off the beaten path, you will find fewer tourists and – potentially more important right now – quite a bit of cost savings. So let’s talk about a few of the doppelgänger destinations you’re going to get into in this episode.

First up, Montreal instead of Paris. Montreal has that French colonial history. It shows up in its language, on street signs, and through the charm of its many cafes, markets and shops. And while you may not have the Eiffel Tower there, you will find great food, tons of arts and culture festivals happening each year. And the other major thing going for it – price. Montreal is quite a bit cheaper than Paris. Average hotel rates this summer were up to about $100 cheaper per night in Montreal compared to Paris.

For your second doppelgänger, head to Bruges, Belgium, instead of Venice, Italy. It may not be the most exact apples-to-apples comparison, but if you’re aiming to avoid crowds and still see beautiful canals, Bruges is a great bet. It only sees a tiny fraction of the searches that Venice gets each year, and the hotel rates average $100 to $130 less per night than in Venice. My tip is to go in May or August to find the best rates and availability while it’s still warm out.

Finally, consider Paros instead of Mykonos. Greece is so popular – we saw a ton of demand return once international travel opened up again this past summer. So if Greece is high on your list, but battling crowds isn’t, try Paros. It’s not as well-known, it sees a tiny fraction of the US travelers that Mykonos gets. Plus, the cost saving is massive. In July, for example, the average hotel rates for Paros were a whopping $230 cheaper per night compared to Mykonos, which is a whole hotel room, essentially.

There are so many other examples of doppelgänger destinations that follow the same pattern of less crowds and lower price tags. So I hope this leaves travelers feeling a little more motivated and inspired to broaden their horizons a little bit. In exchange, they’re going to have a trip that’s absolutely going to exceed their expectations, put a little money back in their pocket and have their friends and family asking for travel recommendations.

[Musical interlude]

Nisreene: Today, I’m joined by travel journalist Siobhan Reid to discuss some of the best doppelgänger destinations out there today. We’re going to talk about all of these alternative destinations that have yet to become affected by mass tourism or might simply be just a little bit more affordable. Think Santorini over Mykonos, Montreal over Paris, or even Bruges instead of Venice.

Siobhan, welcome to Out Travel The System. We’re so excited to have you on the show today.

Siobhan: Thank you so much, Nissi. I’m thrilled to be here.

Nisreene: Tell us a little bit about your writing background and how you sort of started on the hotels front and sort of how you got to where you are today.

Siobhan: To be honest, it was a bit by happenstance. So, I went to university in Montreal at McGill, and I was desperate, like so many writers, to move to New York, the Mecca, and make a go of a writing career. And I didn’t know, really, what my path would look like, like so many people who graduate with an English degree. And one of the first jobs that I interviewed for was a job at Jetsetter, a TripAdvisor company. And I was hired as an editor there and my job was kind of to review hotels. Bear in mind that when I got to New York, I’d only ever been to New York once before. I had no idea. I couldn’t orient myself. I didn’t know the hotel landscape.

So after working at TripAdvisor for a few years, I wanted to get more of that traditional magazine experience. So I hopped over to Travel + Leisure, where I was an editor on the print side for three-and-a-half years, which was also an incredible continuation of my education. It opened up my world, really, and it’s introduced me to so many amazing, intrepid travel writers who, you know, cover the globe in search of rare insights and unique places. And, so, after three-and-a-half years of working there, I just thought, “That’s what I want to do.” So I’m now a freelance travel writer full time, and I write for all kinds of fabulous magazines and newspapers, including Conde Nast Traveler, Washington Post, Vogue, Lonely Planet, obviously Travel + Leisure.

Nisreene: Ooh, Vogue. That’s a fun one. Do you get to go and cover, like, I don’t know, destinations for Fashion Week and stuff like that? Or is it just, like, the ultra elegant trips, you know?

Siobhan: I don’t write about fashion. I spend all my money on travel. So my wardrobe is in tatters and I’m one of those people who live out of a suitcase. So I definitely… you don’t want me rolling up at your fancy fashion event. But Vogue has a lot of fabulous travel content. And, yeah, I love their insight and their stories. So I’m very proud to be a contributor.

Nisreene: Had you traveled much as a young child?

Siobhan: No, not really. I’m from Western Canada. I’m from the province of Alberta. And my parents were so intrepid. The farthest we ever got was Hawaii. I think I’ve been to Hawaii 30 times, I kid you not. We went to Hawaii once a year, all the islands. It was incredible, but we never really got much farther than that. I think, you know, travel is such a big investment, and at the end of the day, my parents just wanted to sit on a beach and relax, and Hawaii has everything going for it. So that’s kind of where we ended up spending most of our holidays. So, we didn’t explore much. And I think the little travel that we did, though, it really stoked my appetite for getting out there and seeing the world.

Nisreene: So all of a sudden, you’re in New York. Never been there. You’re writing for a travel publication…

Siobhan: Yes, it was a bit like baptism by fire. I had been to New York once or twice before on just kind of, like, mini trips, but by no means knew the city, knew my way around. I was living in Times Square. That was my first apartment. So that just goes to show you how much of a newbie I was. But I was just kind of, like, thrown into the deep end of the city, of the travel space. You know, suddenly I’m working for one of the top travel companies in the world. It was just an incredible education from the get-go.

Nisreene: I love that. Amazing. All right. And, so, that just sort of lit your passion, then, for for travel. And it was all uphill from there, I guess, right?

Siobhan: Totally. I never knew that I wanted to be a travel writer. What I did know is that I was just intensely curious about the world. I kind of want to know everything about everything. And I saw travel as the ultimate way to become a subject expert in so many different fields. Like, one day you’re writing a story about a brand-new museum in Paris. The next you’re writing about a remote beach in the Caribbean. There’s just so many different lenses through which you can see the world, and I think that’s what really appeals to me about travel writing.

Nisreene: Yeah, I love that. What a great journey for you. All right. Well, so now you’re based in Barcelona.

Siobhan: Yeah.

Nisreene: You’re traveling all the time.

Siobhan: Correct, correct. Yeah, I… Barcelona is my home base for now. I left New York earlier this year after seven-and-a-half years in Manhattan. And I was pretty weary by the end of it. And I think I was just in need of a different setting. Love New York, it will always feel like home. But I wanted to be, you know, based in a different part of the world and to kind of use that as my jumping-off point for discovering a new geo, destination. You know, a different part of the world.

Nisreene: Obviously, being a travel writer, you’ve been to a lot of really amazing destinations and probably a lot of really classic destinations, right? So I’m curious, why do you think people are so drawn to these, like, classic destinations, right? Like, I feel like people, especially Americans, have a tendency to travel to the same places, especially if it’s, like, their first time out of the country or something along those lines. What do you think is the appeal of these places and why Americans sort of start to always flock to them?

Siobhan: Listen, I get it. Like I said, growing up, my parents didn’t take many holidays, and the few holidays they did take were to places that were tried and trusted, like Hawaii. When you have so few days off, you don’t want to throw the dice. You don’t want to take the risk. There’s obviously, like, a huge financial investment to travel. So I understand wanting to play it safe and go to Paris and go to Barcelona and go to New York City, et cetera. It totally makes sense. But I think, increasingly, travelers are looking for more authentic experiences and they’re conscious of the fact that travel has a footprint. Travel has a capacity to do, you know, harm. It also has the capacity to do a lot of good. So I think people are starting to think more about how their travel impacts the world.

Nisreene: Yeah. So that gets to, like, thinking about some alternatives, right? But I think… so how do we find the balance, then? Because that’s a… you bring up a really good point, right? Like, I actually – it never occurred to me that people were afraid of not getting a good experience and not wanting to necessarily sort of, like, risk it with a sort of new or different destination. I always thought it was people just sort of assumed that, “Oh, I have to go to these places because everyone says they’re so amazing and I don’t want to miss out.” But that sort of not wanting to risk it is a really interesting point. Why do you think people should actually consider some alternative destinations, aside from just, like, a traveler’s footprint, I guess?

Siobhan: Yeah, I think there’s a huge case to be made for going off the beaten track, for one because it just lends itself to more authentic moments, to greater discovery, to a sense of surprise, discovering the unexpected. I think, you know, the way that some people travel, they want everything to be mapped out. They want to know how each moment is going to be spent, where they’re going to go, what they’re going to go and see. And I just kind of find that approach a little bit contrary to the actual spirit of travel, which is going out into the unknown, being caught off guard, not knowing what you’re going to see, and letting the experience kind of move you in ways that are impossible to anticipate and to map out ahead of time.

Nisreene: Yeah. Which, I love that. I mean… So let’s talk a little bit about, I like to call these doppelgänger destinations. So, do you know what a doppelgänger is?

Siobhan: I do.

Nisreene: Yeah. So for those of you who don’t, a doppelgänger is basically like a look-alike. Statistically speaking, we all have a doppelgänger, apparently.

Siobhan: Is that true?

Nisreene: Yes. Apparently there is – everybody has at least one other person out there that looks very, very similar to them.

Well, let’s start off with Mykonos and Santorini, because they had an absolute moment this summer. I mean, they have moments, I think, every single summer. But for whatever reason, like, I think because everybody was just ready, post-pandemic, ready to get out, they’re hitting up all these dream destinations. I felt like there was so much content on social media about Mykonos, but then you actually started to see, a lot of the travel influencers started to show the, sort of, the real side of Mykonos, which was just the absolute crowds and just how big of a party scene it is and how, like, packed everything was. So what are some doppelgänger destinations for Mykonos and Santorini that you might suggest?

Siobhan: Yeah. It’s funny you say that, because I noticed the same things even on my social media accounts. Like, people suddenly widening, you know, their lenses to actually expose what’s happening to these destinations and how mass tourism is affecting them. So I appreciate that. In terms of doppelgänger destinations for Santorini and Mykonos, I have a few faves. Last summer I traveled to Paros and Antiparos, and these are kind of within the same, they’re within the same island chain of Santorini and Mykonos. So, easy to access from Athens. And I just thought that these two islands are the ultimate Greek islands. You could easily travel between them. Paros has more sightseeing. It has great restaurants. It has these beautiful mountain villages. It has the seaside villages. There’s so much to do and discover. And once you kind of get your fill, you can go more off-the-grid to Antiparos, which is more laid-back, a little bit more… a little bit less developed. And you can – you know, I rented a motorcycle and drove along the coast and it was amazing. I felt like I had the island to myself.

Nisreene: I have actually heard a lot of good things about Paros. Like, I have a colleague who… she is, she is amazing and just, like, lives the absolute life. Like, just, you know, is this nomadic human being who takes time off and goes and, like, lives in a different country and does all these amazing things. And she was actually saying that Paros is actually one of her favorite places in the Greek islands. So I’m glad to see it sort of popping up here as well.

Siobhan: One of my dream, like, future vacations is going back to Paros and enrolling in kitesurfing school at this beach, which is right near the ferry that you take to Antiparos. This is a total treasure that I discovered while I was there. Like, I guess this particular beach plays host to kitesurfing competitions, so people come from all over the world. And my boyfriend and I spent a day on the beach watching these kitesurfers perform crazy aerial feats. And I decided in that moment, “I’m coming back here. I don’t care if it means giving up a few weeks of work. I’m doing it. I’m becoming an amateur kitesurfer.”

Nisreene: I love that. Good dream, good dream. All right. Any other good doppelgängers for Santorini and Mykonos?

Siobhan: Yeah, the Athenian Riviera. I think more and more people are discovering it. This is the coastline surrounding Athens. Super easy to access. And it was actually developed at the same time in the 1960s as Positano. So at one point it was kind of like the destination for the jet set, famous celebrities. Jackie O went there, Brigitte Bardot went there, Frank Sinatra, you name it. So it has the glamor factor. And there are great resorts and wineries, marinas, beach clubs, you name it. The last few years, Stavros Niarchos opened the Cultural Foundation, which was designed by Renzo Piano, and that’s in the Athenian Riviera. So this… slowly but surely, it’s gaining more of a profile and more travelers are discovering it, which I think is so wonderful because Athens is more than a stopover city. You know, people have a set attitude – go there, tick the sites, go and see the Acropolis, and then move on and make your way to Mykonos, Santorini, et cetera. But I think there’s more to discover, there’s more to know. And this is just, you know, one way to get to know the wider region.

Nisreene: Yeah, all right. Amazing. That sounds really beautiful. All right, well, let’s sort of head to the other side of the world. Bali, I feel like, is a real dream destination, especially for, like, honeymooners and those types of trips. What are some doppelgänger places for Bali?

Siobhan: I have never been to Bali, so this is not an area of specialty for me. However, I will say that a few friends, in recent years, went to Siargao, which is an island in the Philippines, and these very friends were people who had spent a lot of time in Bali and said that Siargao has the beauty of Bali, but it feels completely, you know, untouched, pristine. Like, beautiful jungles, glorious sandy beaches. You kind of have the same, like, backpacker culture, a little bit of a bohemian vibe. And if you’re looking to party, it has that too. So Siargao is a place that is very, very high on my list.

Nisreene: Oh, that sounds really nice, like any of those places. And so it all just seems so amazing to me. But it does feel like the Philippines would be a good alternative, because not a lot of people, I feel like, really talk about it, but everyone is always talking about Bali and Thailand. And so it feels like maybe that is a good alternative, for sure.

Siobhan: Absolutely. I think the political kind of rockiness in the Philippines has discouraged some some people from visiting, understandably. But it’s undeniable that the islands are spectacular and worthy of discovery.

Nisreene: Yeah. All right. Let’s go to… what about, like, Majorca?

Siobhan: Majorca. I love Majorca. I’m not afraid to say it. And I know that a lot of people go and do the package holiday thing in Majorca, but I really believe that there’s a way to do conscious tourism in destinations that are overexposed, over-touristed. And Majorca, which is a huge island… It’s possible to find your own little corner and kind of dig out a niche for yourself. A lot of people don’t spend any time in Palma, the capital city, which is truly a treasure. I always, when I go and visit Majorca, I always just stay in the city because, from a cultural standpoint, there’s so much to do. There are really cute shops. There’s been this whole, kind of, influx of people, Majorcans, moving back to the island, young people, and opening creative businesses. And so I think there’s this cool, youthful energy in Palma. But that said, if you’re looking to travel beyond Majorca for a lesser-known island destination, Menorca and Formentera, which are two Balearic Islands that are among my favorite destinations in the world, are definitely worth it. Both kind of have this more relaxed down-tempo island thing. One of the best beaches I’ve ever been to is called Ses Illetes. It’s in Formentera. All these, like, crazy mega yachts go and park in the bay at Ses Illetes and it’s… and you can understand why, because the beach is powdery sand, the water is turquoise, crystal clear, and you only really hear Spanish spoken. So, you know that it’s… it hasn’t quite blown up the same that Majorca has. I mean, you go around Majorca, you hear German, you hear French, English, et cetera. But in Menorca and Formentera, that’s not the case.

Nisreene: What about Malta? Do you feel like Malta is sort of untouched? Because I feel like nobody ever talks about it, but it’s right in that same area of, just, like, some of the most popular summer destinations in Europe. So I’m curious if Malta is a place that sort of still has that same energy as some of these sort of, you know, Southern European hotspots, and if it’s been able to avoid the crowds so far?

Siobhan: I haven’t been to Malta in a few years. It was actually one of the first international trips I did with my job at TripAdvisor, and I was enchanted by it when I first got there. Like Majorca, it has this overlapping, you know, history. It was occupied at various times by different civilizations, so it has this incredible cultural richness and historical richness. And so I think, like, Malta is a wonderful place to go if you’re interested in history, if, you know, if you’re one of these travelers who doesn’t just want to do the beach thing, if you’re looking for something a little bit more enriching, Malta is a great destination. And it’s kind of crazy to me, as you said, that it hasn’t blown up in the same way that other destinations have. I think Malta’s a really spectacular country. I think slowly but surely it will start to gain more profile just as Sicily has, you know, Malta’s neighbors to the north. So I hope to return before other people find out about it.

Nisreene: Yeah, me too. Me, too. Well, what about Paris? Because Paris is obviously a huge city, so I don’t know if it really suffers from, like, the overtourism aspect of things, but for a lot of Americans, it could just be, like, maybe a little bit unattainable, maybe the flight’s too far, or maybe, like, cost-wise, because Paris can get pretty expensive in the summer time. Are there any doppelgänger destinations for Paris that might be a little bit closer to home?

Siobhan: Yes. I, being Canadian, I am a big fan of Montreal and Quebec City. Sure, it’s not Paris. And, you know, Paris is just one of those cities that – let’s be real – it has no equal. Paris has it all. It’s singular in its beauty. But Montreal and Québec City offer incredible history. Both cities have UNESCO-recognized old towns. Québec City is actually home to the largest fort in North America. I had no idea. And it’s the only walled city north of Mexico. So Québec City is a fascinating place to discover. And the cuisine in Québec is truly wonderful. Like, I go back often and I’m always amazed at kind of like the culinary tapestry in Québec. I think because you have so many people from all over the world living in the province. You know, it’s not just French bistros. You also have incredible shawarma shops, you have incredible Israeli food, you have Mexican restaurants. And then in Montreal, again, I’m biased because I went to university in Montreal, but it’s just a delight. It’s a city to be a flâneur in. You know, it’s one of those places you just want to walk around and kind of lose time in. You don’t need a map, you don’t need your phone. Just stroll. Start in the Downtown, go to the Plateau, go to the Mile End. Like Paris, it’s just a wonderful city to stroll around.

Nisreene: And they speak French there, predominantly, right?

Siobhan: Yeah, they speak French there. And I think because it is an officially bilingual province, you’re going to find more people speaking English in Québec than you would, say, in Paris, which also kind of makes it a little bit more approachable as a destination for people who might be intimidated by Paris.

Nisreene: Okay. What about Venice? Because we talk a lot about Venice, because not only is Venice, you know, kind of far and hard to get to, but Venice is also really, really struggling with overtourism, right? So, you know, the footprint of the tourism industry has really taken its toll, but also just sort of the natural evolution of Venice as a city. It’s sinking! So where are some other places that people can go to but maybe get a similar feel?

Siobhan: Yeah. So Burano, which is a colorful island, is just a 45-minute boat ride from Venice. It has all these, you know, pastel homes and a kaleidoscopic array of color, and it has footbridges. It definitely has the same atmosphere as Venice. It shares the same DNA. It’s a wonderful place just to get away from Venice on a day trip and have a seaside lunch and have gelato, an aperitivo. Interestingly, it’s where a lot of lace was made back in the day, and this lace was worn by European aristocracy. And so I think you still find these kind of workshops where these handmade goods are being made. So that’s something to look out for if you go.

Nisreene: Did you say it was only 45 minutes away?

Siobhan: Yeah, by boat.

Nisreene: My goodness. Oh, lovely. Okay, yeah.

Siobhan: And that’s something I think – you know, go by all means, go to Venice. There’s no city – like, Venice is a city of marble palaces built on a lagoon, so it’s difficult to find, you know, an exact doppelgänger, but a kind of trick or tip that I picked up while watching one of my favorite Netflix shows, Somebody Feed Phil, was that if you go to Venice, go, but also make time to discover places just beyond, like Modena, which is, you know, ground zero for the real balsamic vinegar.

Nisreene: I didn’t know that. Interesting.

Siobhan: Yeah. So maybe, you know, just go, but split up your time between multiple destinations so that, you know, other small places are reaping the benefits of the tourism and you’re not overwhelming Venice.

Nisreene: All right. Any other potential doppelgängers to Venice that you want to mention?

Siobhan: Yeah. A city that is similarly storybook-like is Bruges in Belgium. Um, it’s an enchanting place to spend a few days. It has canals and cobbled streets and medieval buildings. You feel like you’re in a movie when you’re in Bruges, similar to when you’re in Venice. Being in Spain, a place that I’m really curious to check out is Empuriabrava, which is known as the Venice of Costa Brava. It’s this tourist resort town that has golden sand beaches, but also these waterways that you can cruise around. And everyone who goes says it’s like Venice, but with, you know, sun and that kind of Mediterranean energy. So I’m I’m intrigued.

Nisreene: Well, so I feel like these are some really good selections, good doppelgängers, for sure. And I’m curious – of all of the sort of classic destinations that you’ve been to, if there was one that you feel like you would never go to again, which one would that be?

Siobhan: Hmm.

Nisreene: Like, is there is there a classical destination that you basically felt like was overrated?

Siobhan: Good question. Um… perhaps Shanghai.

Nisreene: Oh, okay!

Siobhan: Shanghai, for me, was a bit of a miss. I think I was going hoping for Beijing, you know? I was going hoping for a bit more cultural immersion. And I think perhaps because of where I was staying – I was reporting a story and I was staying at this very beautiful hotel, but it just felt like I could have been anywhere. And I felt like that in many of the kind of tourist areas of Shanghai, with the with the exception of maybe the French Concession and other kind of parts like that. But, yeah, it didn’t make me super keen to return. It made me interested in going to Beijing and other parts of China, but not like Shanghai. It felt a little Vegas-like, to be honest.

Nisreene: Yeah. You know where else gets really similar feedback is Dubai. People come to Dubai thinking they’re going to get this, like, amazing Arabic immersion, like, in culture and the sort of, like, Bedouin heritage and that kind of stuff. But then they come and because it’s such a new city, it is also very Vegas-like. And there’s so much money and that kind of stuff. And so I think expectations really, really go into what is the experience that you’re going to have. So, like, people who come in – and I lived there for almost two years, but I knew that it was like that, right, when I went there. So I knew that it wasn’t going to be just, like, this old historical, like, Arab town or anything like that. But when people come, they’re, like, so surprised and they’re so shocked and they almost get, like, a little bit disappointed. So I feel like people – I feel like I’m sensing this similar kind of vibe with Shanghai as well.

Siobhan: So where do you send people who come to you and are like, “Nissi, I want to go to Dubai”? You tell them, “No, don’t go here”?

Nisreene: I would probably still recommend people go to Dubai, because I feel like that place is, like, an adult playground. Like I really love it. But if people want a really amazing, like, immersion into Arab culture, I would highly recommend that they go and visit Jordan, because Jordan has just so many different aspects of it. Like, you could go and if you go in the summer time, you can take a trip down to the Dead Sea. There’s just, like, obviously, culturally, in the capital city of Amman, there is just so much to experience. But then you can go to Petra, which is just like this unbelievable historical place, and you can sort of like camp out in the desert and that kind of stuff. So I would highly recommend if people are looking for an Arab experience or really trying to get a little bit more immersed in the Arab culture, Jordan’s a great place to go.

Siobhan: That’s a great suggestion. I love Jordan too. I went to Petra – the one day I had to be there it was pouring rain.

Nisreene: Oh no!

Siobhan: And I was so disappointed. But then I realized I have the whole place to myself. There was nobody there and I ended up having the best day ever. I think I might even be let down if I go back because, you know, I’ll have to share it.

Nisreene: Yeah, that’s true. That’s a really good point. So true. All right. Well, so when people are about to sort of go and book that really big trip, they automatically start to think about the classic destinations – especially for Americans who don’t travel a lot or they’ve never taken, maybe, an international trip. Okay, so how would you encourage someone to start thinking about potentially another doppelgänger destination?

Siobhan: I would say do your research. I know… I am a last-minute packer, planner, traveler. That’s my style and I’m pretty sure it will always be my style.

Nisreene: So am I. Me too! I can’t get over it.

Siobhan: But there’s something to say about doing your research ahead of time, knowing what you’re looking for and planning accordingly. We all have people that we either follow on Instagram or friends that we trust, people we know whose opinions you know, we believe in. Reach out to those people. Ask them for their tips and recommendations. Lean on your network. And, yeah, don’t be afraid to reach out to people, whether it’s, like, a travel writer or an editor or an influencer or, you know, the host of your favorite podcast and say, “Hey, you know, in a recent episode you were talking about Dubai and I want to know where to go instead.” I think people are happy to talk about travel – travel is one of the joys of life. So I can’t imagine someone reaching out and not being excited to give them, like, a 20-page Google doc about all my recommendations.

Nisreene: Oh, I love that. You know, one other tip I might suggest to people as well is, like, instead of thinking, “Oh, I’m going to go to Paris and, like, I’m going to plan everything around Paris,” maybe think of, like, if you have a month in mind… I love to Google the best places to go in, like, January, March, April, and then seeing what pops up and then making decisions almost, like, based off of that, because I feel like those, too, have a tendency to populate with, like, really unconventional destinations too sometimes, which I really like.

Siobhan: That’s a really, really good tip. It’s not something that I have ever done, but I might just start doing it going forward because of this. That’s a really great suggestion.

Nisreene: So Siobhan, how do you plan where you’re going to go next? Like, do you have – do you have classic destinations on your list that you’re trying to tick off or are you trying to avoid those?

Siobhan: I would say it’s a bit of both. As a travel writer, as someone who, you know, claims to be or fancies herself an authority in travel, there are places that I feel I have to know and just have some kind of baseline understanding of. Southeast Asia is one of those places where I don’t have that kind of foundational knowledge, so I want to plan a trip and get to know it. I won’t come with an itinerary, I won’t come with, like, a plan, but I want to kind of get swept up in it and feel the energy and meet people and have it kind of happen organically. Because I think, you know, what Yolanda was saying is it’s not necessarily about finding the places that are new and newsworthy, it’s just about finding places that are good. So that’s what I’m also looking for. But there are so many classic bucket-list kind of destinations that I haven’t done. Like, I haven’t done the Maldives, I haven’t done a big safari – I’ve done just a smaller safari within striking distance of Cape Town, but I haven’t done those kind of like blowout safaris. I think, in recent years, I’ve gotten to know Latin America quite well. I’ve traveled extensively there, and that’s… and I think Latin American travel is very underrated. Like, people, they go to Mexico City, they maybe go to Buenos Aires, they go to… There are a couple of cities that people go to if they venture to that continent, but they don’t go to South America, to Central America. They don’t, you know, go off the beaten track. And I think some of my favorite discoveries have been when I’ve either gotten lost or, you know, I’ve kind of gone rogue and discovered something that was not in the guidebooks.

Nisreene: So let’s talk about Latin America again, because you mentioned Mexico City and Buenos Aires as, like, really popular places. Are there any sort of doppelgängers to those that you would recommend to people?

Siobhan: Yeah. I recently went to Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, and it is a wonderland. It is. It has culture. It has history. You know, it’s so easy to access, you know, a diversity of landscapes. You can go up into the rainforest, you can hop on a plane and go to the Galapagos. There’s a whole coastline of Ecuador that people don’t really know. And I just – when I go out there and the more I started traveling around Quito and then kind of wider Ecuador, I was like, “How do more people, you know, don’t know about this country?” And I’m really impressed by what they’re doing to kind of raise their profile and attract, kind of, eco-tourists and become kind of the next Costa Rica, if you will. Like, Ecuador is going to be rolling out a digital nomad visa and it will be the second country in South America to do so. Colombia is the only other country. Their new… he’s the head of tourism… Oh, not the head of tourism. Tourism minister! The country’s new tourism minister is actually a hotelier. He owns, like, this fabulous property. So I think it’s just a matter of time before more people find out about Ecuador and go to discover its terms.

Nisreene: Yeah, that is a great suggestion. You’re actually one of the first people that I’ve ever interviewed on the show who’s really mentioned Ecuador as a destination. So sort of to flip this conversation a bit on its head. Are there any destinations that you have been to where you feel like there is no way that it has a doppelgänger? It is so absolutely unique that it is… It is a classic spot, but it is well worth the trip to this classic spot.

Siobhan: I would have to correct my earlier answer – as proud a Canadian as I am – I would have to say there is no doppelgänger for Paris. There is no city quite on that level for me. But I know that’s a controversial, maybe, opinion, and I don’t feel like a patriot saying it, but Paris, like, let’s let’s be real. Like, there’s something about that city that is just so magical. It’s a city I can’t tire of. Every time I go, I discover something different. It’s such a diverse place. You can find everything you’re looking for there. It has this incredible literary tradition which, as a book lover, I nerd out over. The hotels are fabulous. Like, as someone who loves hotels, you can find whatever you’re looking for, whether it’s those Grand Palais hotels or, you know, those seven-room boutique gems. I love Paris and I’m not afraid to say it.

Nisreene: Okay, well, you know what? People can do both trips. Like, maybe you don’t have the budget or the, you know, the time to go all the way to Paris, but instead you hit up Montreal or Québec City, and then you save that big trip to Paris. It’s not a this-or-that, right? Like – because, obviously, I want people to go to literally all of these places. But the reality is that we have too little vacation time here in America. Our finances are not infinite, as much as we all like to, you know, dream that they are. But, so, sometimes we have to make trade-offs and choices. I think all doppelgängers are great. So I wanted to just, actually, quickly go back, because we didn’t touch on the Amalfi Coast, which was also having a bit of a moment. You know what? To be fair, in general, this summer, Southern Europe or, like, the European coast was just lit, right? Like, I feel like everybody was going there. But let’s… but, you know, the Amalfi Coast also suffers from getting really intense crowds and it can get really, really expensive and things like that. So what are some good doppelgängers to the Amalfi Coast?

Siobhan: A great doppelgänger is Lake Como, which is just an hour north of Milan, and, in my opinion, it has the same “wow” factor as Amalfi and it’s just as great for road-tripping. When I went to Amalfi, I would say the thing that I loved the most was – this time I wasn’t on a motorbike, I was in a car, and I was just kind of like motoring around. I went from, you know, the town of Amalfi, I went to Positano, I went to Salerno. And it was just that feeling of freedom, of being on the road, of having the window rolled down. I had that same feeling in Lake Como, riding around. It’s – you know, don’t tell my insurance company, but I may have nicked my window because the roads are so narrow. And, obviously, you’re overlooking kind of this, like, jagged cliff. So it’s not for the faint of heart – similar to Amalfi. But as someone who loves to road-trip, it was just a thrill. Yeah. And discovering places like, you know, beyond Bellagio – you know, the spots that everyone knows in Lake Como. It’s just so wonderful to be in a car and to kind of journey around and get to know the place. Other destinations – I am an evangelist for Sardinia. I have this love affair with Sardinia that started last summer. It was the first trip I took – first kind of big international trip – post-COVID, and I was terrified about going. And so I rented this little cottage in Central Sardinia on the coast, and I was like, “I’m just going to, you know, hunker in here and be on the beach.” But after a few days on the beach, I was like, “You know, I just really want to get out there and see things and meet people. I want to go back to traveling the way I did.” And so I got in my car and I started driving around. And I just could not believe that people don’t know this island beyond Porto Cervo. That’s what they know, but they don’t know any other aspect to the island. They don’t know, you know, the archeological ruins. They don’t know the vineyards. They don’t know… you know, basically all they know is the sea, which is not really the spirit of Sardinia. Like so many islands, you know, they’re powered by agriculture. And so people work the land – they’re inland. So to kind of get a true sense of the city, you have to almost – of the island, you have to turn your back to the sea.

Nisreene: Does it not get the same amount of crowds as, like, the rest of that area? Or is it somehow, like, a little bit more tight tame?

Siobhan: When I went, it was in the shoulder season. So I don’t know what it’s like, admittedly, in, you know, peak summer, but I can’t imagine a destination being more crowded than the Amalfi Coast. As much as I loved my trip there, yeah, I was just, you know, surrounded by throngs of tourists and it was not pleasant. And, so, I can’t imagine another destination – not even Majorca, in my opinion, can compete with the levels of tourism that I experienced in Amalfi. But as you said, you know, it’s not… this exercise in doppelgängers, it’s not about this-or-that. It’s just, you know, finding out ways to see these classic destinations without doing the package holiday thing, without going to the same hotels that everyone else goes to, without going to the same beach, etcetera.

Nisreene: Yeah, that’s cute. I like the idea of staying at, like, these alternate accommodations, because I do think a unique lodging experience can kind of change how you, you know, how you perceive a certain destination or how immersed you get in that culture, right? Like, I… because, I think, places like – if you go to Morocco, for example, and you stay in a big fancy hotel versus a riad, it’s like a completely different trip. So the idea of going to a place and finding a unique accommodation, I think is really interesting. Siobhan, thank you so much for coming on the show today. It has been an absolute pleasure having you.

Siobhan: Likewise. Thank you so much, Nissi.

Nisreene: And since you offered, I want to make sure everybody gets a chance to reach out to you and ask you for specific travel recommendations. So where can people find you?

Siobhan: Absolutely! You can find me on Instagram. I have a website. So, I list – I’m worried I’m going to regret this. But I have a website and I list my email on the website. So feel free to reach out and, yeah, tell me why I’m wrong that Shanghai is overrated. I’d love to hear it.

Nisreene: Do you want to tell us your website name?

Siobhan: Sure. It’s my name. So it’s

Nisreene: All right. Prepare for the influx. All right, Siobhan. So where can people reach out to you for all of these destination tips?

Siobhan: Yeah. Feel free to reach out, to send me a DM on Instagram. My handle is @siobhanmreid. I have one of those wacky Irish first names, so it’s spelt S-I-O-B-H-A-N. And then my middle initial, M and then Reid, R-E-I-D.

Nisreene: All right. Amazing.

[Musical interlude]

Thank you so much for joining us. For more info on episodes, guests, and to find travel inspiration, be sure to visit Out Travel The System’s blog at If you have any questions, comments, thoughts, or, better yet, travel suggestions, be sure to DM us. We are @Expedia on Instagram. Oh, and don’t forget to give the show a follow and subscribe on your favorite podcast player so that you don’t miss an episode as soon as it drops.

Out Travel The System is brought to you by Expedia, with special thanks to PRX and Sonic Union. I’m the Executive Producer and your host, Nisreene Atassi. Special thanks to the following:

Additional writing by Kimu Elolia.
Producer Rishika Sharma.
Associate Producers Syma Mohammed and Nathanael Taylor.
Production Assistant is Alex Thiel and Carolina Garrigo.
Theme music and original composition by Kevin J Simon.
Music edit, sound design, and mix by Rob Ballingall, and music supervision by Justin Morris.
Executive Producer and Writer Halle Petro.
PRX Executive Producer Jocelyn Gonzalez.

Out Travel the System is recorded with Sonic Union in New York City

Be sure to tune in next week. We are talking to Nevin Martell, who’s going to give us the ins and outs about being the family travel planner.

Till next time, this is your host, Nisreene Atassi, for Out Travel The System. Find us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Happy travels!